Policies Compared: Today’s Corporate Blogging Rules

    June 6, 2005

On four points, all of the eight most well-known corporate blogging policies agree — corporate bloggers are personally responsible and they should abide by existing rules, keep secrets and be nice. Those four principles are the core of today’s corporate blogging rules.

I’ve compared and categorized the corporate blogging policies and guidelines of IBM, Yahoo! (pdf), Hill & Knowlton, Plaxo, Thomas Nelson, Feedster, Groove and Sun. They’re all on my list of Corporate Blogging Policies, the post I update when I find new policies. You’ll also find some more related links there.
Why a comparison? I figured it would be valuable for many other organizations to get an overview of these early policies. Maybe see the patterns. And it is interesting to find what all of them consider important — and perhaps even more interesting are some of the more unusual pieces of advice/rules.

  • The Core; all companies

    – You’re personally responsible
    – Abide by existing rules
    – Keep secrets
    – Be nice

  • The Common; approximately half of them

    – Add value
    – Respect copyright
    – Follow the law
    – Cite and link
    – Discuss with your manager

  • We can also add The Unusual; things only one or two companies mention. There are certainly many rules we only find in a few policies, but these I found especially interesting.

    – You can write on company time
    – Our goal
    – You may disagree with the boss
    – Stop blogging if we say so
    – Contact PR

    The Core rules

    You’re personally responsible (8/8)
    Even though these policies are talking about corporate blogging, they all aim for the part of it that’s employee blogging as well. Actually employee blogging often is the primary discussion. As a result of that, it’s logical that all policies stress the bloggers’ personal responsibility.

    Example, IBM: Blogs, wikis and other forms of online discourse are individual interactions, not corporate communications. IBMers are personally responsible for their posts.

    In line with this, 5 of 8 recommend (or demand that) bloggers include a disclaimer. 2 of 8 mention a disclaimer as an option. 1, Yahoo!, doesn’t talk about a disclaimer at all.

    Abide by existing rules (8/8)
    All policies refer, more or less, to present corporate policies. They form a basis for the blogging rules. Yahoo! remind of a Proprietary Information Agreement and IBM of its Business Conduct Guidelines.

    Example, Thomas Nelson: As a condition of your employment, you agreed to abide by the rules of the Thomas Nelson Company Handbook. This also applies to your blogging activities. We suggest you take time to review the section entitled, “Employee Responsibilities”.

    Keep secrets (8/8)
    Not much to say about this one. It’s got to be there.

    Example, Sun: …it’s perfectly OK to talk about your work and have a dialog with the community, but it’s not OK to publish the recipe for one of our secret sauces.

    Be nice (8/8)
    This we could call the “common sense”-rule: watch what you’re saying, don’t insult anyone, don’t be obscene, don’t attack people personally, avoid inflammatory subjects — pretty obviuos but apparently something all these companies think is necessary.

    Example, Plaxo: You may not post any material that is obscene, defamatory, profane, libelous, threatening, harassing, abusive, hateful or embarrassing to another person or any other person or entity. This includes, but is not limited to, comments regarding Plaxo, Plaxo employees, Plaxo’s partners and Plaxo’s competitors.

    The Common rules

    Add value (5/8)
    A category more from the guidelines than the policy parts. Bloggers are recommended to be relevant, to write about what they know.

    Example, Hill & Knowlton: The best way to be interesting is to write about what you know. If you have a deep understanding of something, talk about the challenges and issues around it. Try not to rant about things you don’t understand, as you’re more likely to get embarrassed by a real expert.

    Follow the law (5/8)
    There are examples of policies saying this in general, but legal aspects are primarily discussed from a financial perspective.

    Example, Hill & Knowlton: There are many things that we cannot mention as a publicly-owned company. Talking about our revenue, future plans, or the WPP share price will get you and Hill & Knowlton in legal trouble, even if it is just your own personal view…

    Respect copyright (4/8)
    There are actually two sub-categories of this. In some cases bloggers are reminded about copyright in general. In other cases the company specifically points out that also the company’s own material is protected.

    Example, Feedster: …you will require permission to use company trademarks or reproduce company material on your site.

    Cite and link (3/8)
    I’m surprised this one isn’t more common considering how basic linking is for blogging. If we tell employees they should be interesting and not insult anyone — which could be critized for being too obvious — why not stress this important part of blogging more?

    Example, IBM: Find out who else is blogging on the topic, and cite them.

    Discuss with your manager (3/8)
    A piece of very practical advice. Bloggers should discuss with their managers if they in any way are uncertain about what they’re going to write.

    Example, Groove: Please consult your manager if you have questions about the appropriateness of publishing such concepts or developments related to the company’s business on your site.

    The Unusual rules

    You can write on company time (2/8)
    Plaxo together with Thomas Nelson. And it’s a good idea. A policy should, I think, make it clear if blogging is allowed on the job — after all, we’re talking about blogging about the job.

    Example, Plaxo: You may participate in Plaxo-related public communications on company time. However, if doing so interferes with any of your work duties and/or responsibilities, Plaxo reserves the right to disallow such participation.

    I could add two more policies, IBM and Groove, that says “don’t let blogging interfere with your work” even if they don’t explicitly say bloggers can blog on company time.

    Our goal (2/8)
    This is interesting. Only two policies clearly states what the company expects from or wants to achieve with blogging. Some general remarks can be found in others, e.g. Hill & Knowlton, but not as straightforward as Thomas Nelson and IBM. To me as a communicator this is where all communication thinking must start.

    Example, Thomas Nelson: Our goal is three-fold:

  • To raise the visibility of our company,
  • To make a contribution to our industry, and
  • To give the public a look at what goes on within a real live publishing company.
  • You may disagree with the boss (1/8)
    This I would like to see in more corporate blogging policies! It’s not half as obvious as many of the other things these policies tell the bloggers. But it could be one of the more important to make words like “openness” credible.

    Example, Plaxo: You may not attack personally fellow employees, authors, customers, vendors, or shareholders. You may respectfully disagree with company actions, policies, or management.

    Stop blogging if we say so (1/8)
    Maybe this goes without saying, but only one policy states that employees are to stop blogging about company matters if they’re told so.

    Example, Feedster: …please be aware that the company may request that you temporarily confine your website or weblog commentary to topics unrelated to the company (or, in rare cases, that you temporarily suspend your website or weblog activity altogether) if it believes this is necessary or advisable to ensure compliance with securities regulations or other laws.

    Contact PR (1/8)
    Many bloggers can testify to the fact that a good blog attracts media attention. What if that happens to an employee blog? Only Yahoo! discusses the situation.

    Example, Yahoo! (pdf): If a member of the media contacts you about a Yahoo!-related blog posting or requests Yahoo! information of any kind, contact PR.

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    Fredrik Wacka is the author and founder of the popular CorporateBlogging.Info blog which is a guide to business and corporate blogging.

    Visit Fredrik Wacka’s blog: CorporateBlogging.Info.